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Many people believe 1991’s multi-award winning The Silence of the Lambs to be the film that introduced the world to Dr. Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter. In fact, the not-so-good doctor made his first screen appearance some time before the events in that film. Before The Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal there was Manhunter, a film based on the Thomas Harris novel ‘Red Dragon’.

Interestingly enough, Michael Mann’s 1996 feature doesn’t give Lecter (or Lecktor as he is in Manhunter) a lot of screen time, and instead concentrates on the FBI agent responsible for his incarceration and the pursuit of a new serial killer—The Tooth Fairy. Anchor Bay’s limited edition presents both the theatrical cut, and slightly longer director’s cut in a double disc package.

Manhunter: Limited Edition

Feature


William Petersen plays Will Graham, a retired FBI profiler who was responsible for apprehending the cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), but at significant cost to his own psychological well being. Graham uses a particularly ingenious, not to mention dangerous technique when pursuing his quarry. In order to better understand criminal impulses he immerses himself into the psyche of a killer, thinking as they would in order to anticipate their next move. Although effective it has a severely detrimental effect on his mental health, as he risks losing his own identity within that of a serial killer.

When a new serial murderer surfaces, Graham is coaxed out of retirement by FBI Section Chief Jack Crawford (played here by Dennis Farina). The killer, dubbed the ‘Tooth Fairy’ because of the bite marks he leaves on his victims, is murdering whole families in their homes and appears to be following a lunar cycle. With only three weeks left before the Tooth Fairy is due to strike again, Graham agrees to help track him down. In order to do this Graham needs to construct an accurate profile of the killer, and to that end he visits the incarcerated Hannibal Lecktor...

Manhunter features some fine performances, especially from Petersen and Cox. Petersen portrays Will Graham as an intensely thorough character, one who is almost as meticulous in his work as the killer he is trying to capture. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the interaction between Graham and Lecktor. Brian Cox portrays Lecktor in a very different way to Anthony Hopkins, which is no bad thing. Cox’s performance is understated, emotionless and very unsettling, a direct contrast to Hopkins’ almost camp turn. The fact that Hannibal is locked away behind bars in a completely sterile environment, rarely to be seen, makes his appearances here even more powerful. What must not be forgotten is that the exchanges between Graham and Lecktor are merely a small part of a much larger picture, that of the pursuit of the Tooth Fairy.

Manhunter: Limited Edition
The Tooth Fairy, portrayed by Tom Noonan, is explored in greater detail than the killer in Silence, and we really get to learn a lot more about how his mind works and why he does what he does. Noonan is superb in the role, and is genuinely one of the most unsettling villains I’ve seen in a film. He lends the character an almost sympathetic quality, like someone who has suffered greatly in the past and is more a product of that suffering than anything else. He is an intensely shy character, lacking in basic social skills, but aside from this there is nothing to set him apart from the next person. This is what makes the character so frightening, the fact that he could literally be your next-door neighbour.

Video


For the theatrical release of this collector’s edition we are treated to a great new THX certificated transfer, presented in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 and anamorphically enhanced. Dante Spinotti’s cinematography is simply excellent, evident from the opening scene where Graham and Crawford are sitting on the beach with gorgeous blue skies and the ocean stretching as far as the eye can see. The transfer is first-rate, and apart from some minor print damage the video is superb for a relatively unknown feature of this age.

The director’s cut on the other hand, is a different story. Although presented in anamorphic 2.35:1, the image quality is the worst I’ve seen on DVD. It really makes it difficult to sit through this cut of the film at all. The picture is a blurry, grainy mess that has more in common with VHS than DVD. To be fair to Anchor Bay, this is the fault of the original material rather than a problem with the transfer, as it was probably sourced from videotape. I am choosing not to take the poor image quality of the director’s cut into consideration when giving my video rating below. I consider this to be an extra, and as such it should be treated separately from the main feature.

Audio


The theatrical cut is accompanied by a Dolby 5.1 track of fairly high quality. The mix is nicely balanced, with some nice use of the surrounds when appropriate, and dialogue is clear throughout. This isn’t one of those DVDs that will stun your friends with its fantastic use of 5.1 sound, but then that’s not what the film is about.

Manhunter: Limited Edition
The director’s cut of Manhunter comes equipped with a Dolby Surround track that, while it will never set the world alight, does a reasonable job of conveying the aural experience. As with the video, the director’s cut will not affect my overall rating of the audio.

Manhunter’s soundtrack had me in two minds the first time I watched the film. Rather than opt for the more traditional score, the film features tracks from several 80s rock bands, as well as synthesized instrumental music. My initial reaction was that it has a decidedly ‘ Miami Vice’ feel to it, which at the time I believed unnecessarily locked the film into a specific timeframe. With multiple viewings I now believe my first reaction to be incorrect, and that Manhunter’s soundtrack is perfectly suited to the film. The instrumental tracks are very atmospheric indeed and really set the tone for the more chilling moments. The three rock tracks that are used are also in keeping with the manner of the film, and the use of Iron Butterfly’s ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida during the climax is excellent. After giving it some thought, it actually seems somewhat appropriate that the film has an ‘80s’ feel to it.

Extras


This limited edition comes complete with some very nice extra features, although not quite as many as I would have hoped for in a collector’s set like this. Aside from the usual theatrical trailer (anamorphically enhanced for once) and talent bios, we are given two short featurettes. The first, entitled ‘The Manhunter Look: A conversation with cinematographer Dante Spinotti’, is exactly that. The second, slightly longer featurette is entitled ‘Inside Manhunter’, and features interviews with most of the principal cast, although Michael Mann is conspicuous by his absence. Included in the package is a 24-page booklet, or rather a dossier that resembles the FBI files carried by Will Graham in the film. This holds some interesting essays on the film, as well as some excellent photographs. Finally we have the much-maligned director’s cut. While it is true that this version of the film is somewhat aurally and visually inferior to the theatrical cut, it is a nice addition and worth at least one viewing.

Manhunter: Limited Edition

Overall


I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I prefer this to Silence of the Lambs and the rather disappointing Hannibal. In Manhunter the role of the killer is fleshed out, making him a far more interesting and threatening character than Buffalo Bill in Silence, which in turn makes the film more gripping. This edition contains everything a fan could want, excellent audio and video quality (at least for the theatrical version), a nice selection of extras and the director’s cut of the film. The director’s cut is an interesting inclusion, but it is not necessarily the better of the two versions. If you’re after a well-crafted, stylish, intense psychological thriller then you could do a lot worse than this. If you try not to view it as a prequel to the other films, but rather as a film in it’s own right, you will find you will find the film a lot more enjoyable.

A single disc edition of the film is also available, but this doesn’t include the director’s cut. That said, it is cheaper and is a little easier to track down than the two disc set.

As an interesting side note, Brett Ratner is set to direct a remake of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon. Edward Norton is set to star as Will Graham, and talks are in progress with Anthony Hopkins to reprise his Lecter role. Norton is a hugely gifted actor, and I will be very interested to see how he handles the troubled Graham character. It will also be interesting to see which actor is selected to take on the task of playing the Tooth Fairy. According to the IMDb, the film is due for a US release sometime next year.


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